ST. GEORGE — A recently established program, the Utah Alliance for the Determinants of Health, is in the planning stages to provide resources for community members to address nonmedical social determinants of health issues.
Social determinants of health include factors such as housing instability, utility needs, food insecurity, interpersonal violence and transportation issues that inhibit a patient’s ability to be healthy.
Intermountain Healthcare is funding and organizing the alliance, which also involves city, county and state government agencies along with community organizations.
The alliance was formed because the amount of money spent on health care in the U.S. compared to the poor return on health and life expectancy suggested a need to try something different.
Partners and members of the alliance include Intermountain Healthcare, Leavitt Partners, Washington County Commission, Southwest Behavioral Health Center, the city of St. George, SelectHealth and Richard Isom, owner of local business Vive Studio Inc.
“We’re very excited to work with our partners in this innovative collaboration … these are pretty special people who make things happen,” said Mikelle Moore, Intermountain Healthcare’s senior vice president.
The alliance is still determining the exact steps needed to address the issues. One goal is for health care professionals to ask their patients about any nonmedical needs they may have and direct them to resources that are already in place. The plan follows the Accountable Health Communities model created by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Mayor Jon Pike represents both the city of St. George and SelectHealth on the alliance.
“As I see it, the alliance that we have formed today is another way, another step in the evolution of helping people have equal opportunity to a healthy life.”
Over the next six months, the alliance will work to discover which interventions will be most helpful to the community and what steps they are able to take. Implementation will take place in early 2019.
Once a practitioner has determined that a patient has a social determinant of health need, they will direct them to community resources for the help they need. One such resource is 211 Utah – United Way. People can call the number 211 to be connected to any health and human resources they may need.
“We all have one common goal,and that is to lift people up,” Washington County Commissioner Victor Iverson said.
Isom contributes a personal perspective to the alliance. As a person who went through a time of financial instability while trying to care for a family of seven, creating an alliance to help other people like himself is something he is passionate about.
“I’m grateful to have the opportunity to present a face of who we are trying to help. Because as a community, it will make a difference. It will get people to the point where they can make the difference that they want to make in their home, in their neighborhood and in their community.”
Michael Cain, associate director of the Southwest Behavioral Health Center, said his department is glad to be part of the alliance as it directly aligns with their values, part of recovery capital for those recovering from addiction or mental health struggles.
The alliance is a pilot program in St. George and Ogden for the first three years. After that, they will evaluate the program and perhaps expand to other communities.
The initial funding for the alliance will go toward boosting community programs. By contributing additional funds, Intermountain Healthcare and its community partners will be able to improve efficiency in services like care coordination to reduce the overall spending on health care.
The alliance will begin its work with members of SelectHealth Medicaid who live in certain ZIP codes in St. George and Ogden. Those who qualify will be able to choose their own health care providers. Qualifying ZIP codes include 84770 and 84790 in St. George and 84401 and 84403 in Ogden.
The qualifying communities were chosen based on need, partnership opportunities with other organizations and other factors, including available social services.
Over the first three years, Intermountain Healthcare will invest $12 million, $2 million to each location per year. Zions Bank also contributed $100,000 to support the alliance. It is hoped that more financial partners will emerge as the plan progresses.
Andrew Croshaw, CEO of Leavitt Partners, a firm founded by former Utah governor Mike Leavitt,that is advising the alliance, said that while some may have concerns that the alliance is opening up opportunities for enablement, its goal is to provide the opposite.
“Something that we appreciate about our community, about our state, is that we believe in independence. And as you think about the magnitude and the far reaching nature of this project, one might think, ‘are we opening the doors to enablement?’ … I want to be really clear that the objective of this is independence.”